The Recent Moral Panic on LGBT Education Is Just Another Homophobic Tactic

Photo by Harry Quan on Unsplash

The HB 1557 Bill, often called the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, has caused a very large controversy over the past few months. One side will say that the bill is very homophobic and the other side is trying to accuse LGBT people and specifically teachers, of grooming kids to ‘become’ LGBT and they believe this bill will help stop that.

Every time someone calls it an anti-LGBT bill, the supporters of the bill will get very pedantic saying “read the bill, it technically doesn’t say ‘don’t say gay.’ It’s just against teaching children about sex!” then they call you a pedophile or groomer and accuse you of wanting children to read 50 Shades of Gray as assigned reading or something.

For them, this sort of strawman facilitates and revitalizes the moral panic surrounding LGBT issues and minors. Within the past few decades there has always been a hint of acting like LGBT relationships are solely about sex.

Elsa and Honeymaren in Frozen II

I remember in 2013 after Frozen came out, and people were pushing “#GiveElsaAGirlfriend” because many people interpreted Elsa’s journey to self-acceptance and not having to hide who she is, as a queer allegory. In Frozen 2 she even had made friends with another woman named Honeymaren that many people thought would be a cute relationship. Many people were supportive of this, but some people thought it would be better for her to stay a single, independent woman. Then there were the folks who were saying they couldn’t depict a same-sex relationship because Frozen was a kids’ show. But, Elsa having a girlfriend, wouldn’t in itself be unfriendly to children. Disney has even had kids shows with same-sex relationships, such as TJ and Cyrus on Andi Mack, or Luz and Amity on The Owl House. The reason people were saying that was because LGBT relationships are often overly sexualized, especially people thinking lesbian is a porn category rather than an identity. People think gay relationships are all about sex, but they’re wrong.

It’s this conflation that causes the debate of the 1557 Bill. The wording itself is vague. A section of it “prohibits classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in certain grade levels.” And this is where the right-wingers often will clutch their pearls and say “why do you want to teach children about sex!” and claim you’re a groomer for being against the bill. If their problem was simply about children being taught about sex, I wouldn’t have a problem with that. But the wording of this bill would be different if it were just about teaching sexual activity. What they fail to understand is two main components that I want to emphasize in this article:

  1. Learning about people of different sexual orientations or gender identities does not necessarily entail learning about sexual intercourse.
  2. Lesbian, gay, bi, trans, ace, etc. identities is not an inherently sexual topic.

When I was like 9–10 years old, I discovered which gender I was into, and I had crushes on people of that gender. I imagined being in relationships with them. In fact, I remember in 4th grade being made fun of for being “gay” by classmates even though I wouldn’t even know what that word truly meant for three years. I wasn’t really aware of what was going on, nor did I think those relationships that I wanted were possible until I was in 7th grade and learned what being gay and bi was in a health class. I didn’t have any sexual feelings or desire until I was a teenager and yet I was not straight.

A gender identity is simply what gender you are. It’s whether you are a man or a woman. Nothing sexual about that. And does this mean we can’t refer to people as men or women? Whether or not someone is a trans woman, trans man, cis man, cis woman, boy or girl, they still have a gender identity. Clearly what they mean is “no talking about transgender identities” but the lawmakers clearly don’t know what gender identity means.

A sexual orientation describes the sex and/or gender of people that a person is attracted to, and has the capacity to date, fall in love, get married to, etc. And yes, it also can describe who you want to have sex with. But sexual activity is NOT the only aspect to someone’s sexual orientation.

Please tell me how on Earth this is sexual

Homophobic people seem to think that it’s impossible to talk about LGBT people without mentioning sex. But that’s not true in the slightest. You can teach about LGBT people’s existences without mention 18+ topics. When talking about non-platonic relationships to children, we always leave out the sexual aspects. We say “Mr. and Mrs. Smith got married because they met in high school, started dating, and they love each other.” We don’t mention that the Smiths have an amazing sex life. You can do the same when talking about gay relationships. “Those two guys loved each other and got married.” If the child is confused because they’ve only seen straight couples, it’s not hard to explain. “Yes, it’s possible for two men or two women to love each other and get into relationships.”

Preschool — 3rd graders are absolutely exposed to relationships already. They know that their parents are/were in a relationship. They may have older siblings, aunts or uncles in a relationship. They just view relationships as dating and romance.

They read stories about princes and princesses falling in love. Reading a story about two princes falling in love, or talking about how some people have different family structures, like gay dads and lesbian moms, should not be seen as any different or less appropriate to children that age.

If I could have described my sexual orientation as being able to date either guys or girls without it being sexual at all when I was young, teachers definitely can too when it gets time to learn about that, usually in lessons on health and relationships.

That includes talking about the existence of people like that in general, but it does not say anything about the act of sex. A guy saying he only dates girls and is straight is not sexual. A guy saying he only dates males and therefore is gay, isn’t sexual. Talking about someone being able to be with males or females is not sexual. But ALL of these situations are talking about a person’s sexual orientation.

Conflating sexual orientation with sexual activity leads to treating LGBT identities, like they’re an 18+ topic when they’re really not. These messages, when a kid or teen discovers they are gay or bi, make them feel like them wanting to date someone of the same sex is something dirty and they should be ashamed of it.

That’s where this bill’s goals becomes more transparent. They want to stigmatize LGBT people, relationships, and lives as being inherently 18+ because it spreads and promotes the idea that LGBT people are dangerous to children, and wanting to save the children from danger is always a good look for someone, even if what they’re doing is actually going to hurt children.

It’s a very broad law because of the vague wording. There is too much gray area. Will mentioning that a student has lesbian moms get them in trouble because mentioning they’re lesbians is discussing sexual orientation? If a student is trans do they just never mention it because that would require them to discuss gender identity?

Simply put — they don’t actually care about saving children nor parental rights. It’s a symbolic law created to scare teachers, to discourage acceptance, teaching about this homophobes don’t like, and strengthen fears of LGBT people around children and teens.

The worst thing about this law is that it encourages forcibly outing these kids to their parents, possibly putting them in danger. Saying it “prohibits school district from adopting procedures or student support forms that prohibit school district personnel from notifying parent about specified information [aka, a students sexual orientation or gender identity] or that encourage student to withhold from parent such information.”

If a child comes out to a counselor or a teacher who they know will support them, but hasn’t told their parents, that’s usually for a reason. They don’t feel safe to tell their parents or friends for that matter. Imagine that they come out to their teacher, the teacher immediately notifies the parents, and then the parents begin abusing their child at home, or even tries to attempt conversion therapy? Or the rumor gets around school and other students bully the student? That teacher failed, putting that student in an unsafe situation. Simply put: if someone comes out to you, you have no right to spread their secret to anyone. And if you do you’re a terrible person.

A lot of this is about control. Some parents are simply overbearing and want to control every little thing their child sees. That’s another reason why parents have been attacking the education system so much because they want to shelter their children and teens from many truths that they don’t like.

The homophobic ones want to indoctrinate their children to be homophobic, to prevent their son or daughter from thinking there is a possibility that they could be anything but straight, and they want any hint of LGBT representation or education to be shielded from their child’s eyes because they don’t like LGBT people. I think most of them know being gay or bi isn’t all about sex but they purposely are trying to blur the lines so their arguments on grooming seem more legitimate.

They know they can no longer use the old anti-LGBT arguments that were essentially: “gay people are bad and don’t deserve rights because my religion says so” or “that it’s gross and makes me uncomfortable.” They knew they needed a stronger argument, a more dehumanizing one, so they chose to label people as pedophiles for saying it’s okay for children to know LGBT exist.

We can’t let that idea prevail again, lest we continue making LGBT people’s lives harder for the next generations, continuing to make them a taboo topic and pushing them into years of mental anguish in the closet. We can do much better than that. We have to be more persistent in calling out this attempt to dehumanize LGBT people.

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